Church boards can be managed — and its decisions shaped — when limited choices are offered in a highly controlled setting.
Especially so when there might be a church bully or two lurking in the background.
Recognize this scenario? Many parents have engaged in this: Ok kids — do you want your bath before or after diner?
Similarly, the board of St. John the Baptist Episcopal church in Aptos, CA was told to decide between two choices: a) keep the Helpful Shop Board in place or b) immediately dissolve it? And you are here until you decide yes or no.
Other choices were possible — such as get more information from the Helpful Shop Board before making the decision. You know, actually talk to the players. Mmmm.
The eleven member church board had already been wrangling for months with emails flying back and forth between meetings. In effect, the board members do business between the official meetings. That causes problems.
Those squabbles would likely continue if they choose to keep the Board in place. To immediately dissolve the Helpful Shop Board might seem like a tantalizing choice — maybe the problem would disappear and, ah, just in time for the church to welcome its new Rector.
Know that scenario where the priest shows up unexpectedly and suddenly the Bible appears on the coffee table, a quick dust of the room, and all the clutter gets shoved behind the couch. Clean up, clean up time ….
In the analogy above, the kids could have asked for different choices — a) no bath or b) bath put off a day or two or c) a sponge bath of just feet and hands.
What does the Helpful Shop Board say? No one from the current leadership was asked. Come speak to the St. John’s Board Vestry. Why not ask the people who have done it for the last 10+ years come and express their views? Ask the Helpful Shop Board how the Vestry and they can work together. That did not occur.
The decision to either dissolve or keep in place was held in a controlled setting — sitting in the sanctuary in total privacy. and everyone present knew that the meeting would go on and on until they took a vote. One person asked to table the decision but the votes were not there. After three hours the board voted to dissolve the Helpful Shop Board 8 to 2 with one person abstaining. No unanimous decision there.
Having had a reportedly excellent ‘discernment’ process lead by an outside professional in choosing the next Rector the church leadership could have asked episcopal Bishop Mary for the same person back to deal with this major, on-going, long term squabble. Nope.
The current leadership — soon to depart interim priest Merritt Greenwod (April 2, 2017) and wardens Bill Kell and Andrea Seitz — shaped the choices offered to the church vestry board: either continue as is or immediately dissolve the Helpful Shop Board. After senior warden Bill Kell lead off, Jon S set the tone as he spoke first. Ah – the power of first impressions …
Some information about Jon S It was Jon S on the St. John’s Bylaws committee who — aided by interim priest Merritt Greenwood — pushed for substantial changes to the 2014 church bylaws. The Vestry decided at their meeting in November 2017 — just before elections in December — to accept the nomination committee’s recommendations. Jon S was the chair of the nominating committee.
Unaware of the proposed new changes to the Bylaws, people seeking to be nominated in Dec. 2016 followed the 2014 Bylaws which were posted. However, the ‘new’ Bylaws were used to determine who could be nominated to the Vestry. Four months later – in March, 2017 — the proposed Bylaws have just recently been sent to the Diocese for review.
One issue — which affected the Dec. 2016 elections — is whether St. John’s episcopal church can require a documented contribution to the operating fund of the church in order to run for Vestry.
Based on comments of some, Jon S exerts substantial behind the scene influence — meddling and frequently bossy — as to how church decisions are made. Some people describe him as a bully. Some describe him as terrific and that he makes great changes. More than a handful of people say that for several years Jon has sought to gain access and control over the monies given out by the Helpful Shop. Some say that he simply likes to ‘win’. In his interactions with people, on occasion, Jon can be literally ‘in people’s faces’.
So what really happened at the meeting wherein the church vestry killed the Helpful Shop Board?
One narrative of what occurred at the closed meeting was written by junior warden Andrea Seitz and published in a newsletter March 23, 2017. This version by Ms. Seitz says zip — nothing — as to who authorized her to publish this narrative. [Should you Google a job description for episcopal church junior warden — what’s published is different from that of Clerk of the Vestry.]
The official version concerning the demise of the Helpful Shop Board will eventually be published by the Clerk of the Vestry. The Clerk routinely sends out a draft, gets back proposed changes and then publishes.
Aptos Psychologist: What say you? Churches do hurt people. Spiritual abuse does go on. Some churches kill their sheep one by one…. Good heavens!
March 26, 2017 — Email sent to St. John’s membership:
Vestry Meeting, March 14, Summary by Andrea Seitz, Jr. Warden
“The Vestry is busy planning for Merritt’s departure and working toward a smooth entry for our new Rector, Mother Tracy. At our last meeting several actions were taken to assist with this goal.
First, we agreed to send the by-laws that have been worked on this year to the Chancellor’s Office for review. There are still areas that need to be worked on, which will be dealt with in June when Mother Tracy can be part of the discussion. Those deal with what qualifies as parish membership, what qualifies as voting membership of parish and who is qualified to run for Vestry position. If you would like to give input into these areas please come to the June meeting. (Ed. Note: June 13, 2017) You may also speak with me about your preferences.
Second, Don Zimmerman, representing the Personnel Committee presented a job description for the Helpful Shop manager. The job description was approved and the church office will have a copy if you would like to see it.
We also increased the Administrative Assistant’s work hours to nineteen to allow her to go to the Post Office to check our new post office box twice a week. Helpful Shop Grants Award Brunch
Several Vestry members attended the Helpful Shop Grants Brunch ……
Andrea Seitz continues: While at the brunch it became apparent from some of the questions and comments directed at me that there is still information in the parish and community that is inconsistent with the actual purpose, process, and intent of the Vestry’s decision to dissolve the Helpful Shop Advisory Board (HSAB).
[Andrea Seitz writes] I hope the following Information will clarify. The Discernment Process Used to Come to a Decision. The Vestry took the action after using a discernment process that has been part of St John’s decision making tool kit for decades and used recently by the Search Committee and the Vestry during the selection of our new Rector. For this issue, it began with prayer and then two questions were discussed. The first was “What are the reasons for leaving the Helpful Shop Board in place?” And the second was, “What are the reasons for dissolving the Helpful Shop Board.” This format was not one of debate or argument, instead each person took turns answering each question, one at a time, while everyone else listened carefully. The process continued until everyone had the chance to say everything they wished to say. It was very respectful and orderly.
At the conclusion, each Vestry member voted a secret ballot, and the decision of the whole Vestry was reported out….” [Andrea continues]
In response to Andrea Seitz’s narrative, Win Fernald – in charge of the Search Committee for a new Rector — sent an email (in batches of 12) out to the entire church.
March 5, 2017: Win S. does not want his Letter published on Monterey Bay Forum and — to respect his wishes — his Letter has been deleted.
Win’s Letter started:
Dear member of St. Johns ….
Correction 4/1: The Nominating Committee did not have a chair and consisted of three members exiting the church Vestry (governing board). Jon S was chair of the Bylaws Committee.
On Wed. April 5, 2017 there was a brief exchange of words between Win F. and C. Jackson. You agreed not to publish my letter Win F. said to C. Jackson as he brought in a table for the Soup Supper setup. No, C. Jackson responded and said what she remembered. Did you read my email to you? inquired Jackson. No, replied Win.
Ah, such is email!
A portion of what C. Jackson wrote to Win F. regarding prior publication of his Letter:
“Win, I hope that this helps — feel free to forward as you like. In our 10+ minute phone conversation, you told me that you sent your letter by email (in groups of twelve) to everyone in the church. Surely you know that anyone receiving your email can hit the FORWARD button and off your letter goes to many more additional people — to anyone on the Internet. By publishing in the manner you did, your letter t became a public document.
[To Win] “In our 10+ minute phone conversation, you did not explicitly ask or say don’t publish. At one point, I asked you if publication would be helpful and you said that you did not think so. That’s not an agreement.
[written to Win,] Had you asked me, I probably would have agreed. I really do want to be respectful of what people say. And respectful of what individuals don’t want published. Without going into the why of it — I cannot readily ‘erase’ what is published on Monterey Bay Forum.
[ written to Win] “Via the church email sent to the parish community, junior warden Andrea Seitz wrote her narrative in response to questions from the community and the church. And, you wrote your letter in response to Andrea. Thus, it made sense to me to publish both.
“ Surely, you and Bill Kell et al understand that the “greater community” is interested, involved and concerned regarding the Helpful Shop, how it functions and how it’s doing. In a real sense – and a very important sense — the “greater community” concerned about the Helpful Shop is part of “the family” Bill Kell refers to. So who is “family” and who is not ….?
“About this “family” Bill Kell refers to. I too am part of it.
Actually – “flock” is a better term than “family”. There may be a black sheep or two in a “family” — not so in a “church flock”. Everyone in a “flock” is a legitimate member of the flock.
Win — “Rather than you as intermediary, as part of the church “flock” Bill Kell and others can get hold of me directly and easily. I do listen. And I try to do the best I can to write honestly about actions that affect our local community and our church “flock”. Which includes writing about the demise of the Helpful Shop Board. This may not be the answer you want, I hope it helps.Thanks — Cameron Jackson [So far there’s been no response.]
Take Away from the above? Conflict is normal. Listening and talking back and forth are normal ways to address conflict.
Churches mange conflict in a variety of ways – some helpful and some not so helpful.
The ‘discernment’ process that St. John’s in Aptos, CA used to decide the fate of Helpful Shop Board is one wherein each member was expected to speak — one by one — as to what they think. There was no cross talk or general discussion of what someone else said.
St. John’s ‘discernment’ re what to do with the Helpful Shop Board –keep in place as is or eliminate it — was based on a series of monologues. Not a discussion.
Churches are a bulwark in America. Free and open discussion of issues are helpful in the long run. Right? One hopes so.
Just don’t publish something — anything — that someone might deem negative or showing that there’s difficulties in this particular church seems to be the mantra at St. John’s.
The early Christian church was full of problems reading the epistles which Paul wrote to the various churches. And when there were difficulties people got together and discussed issues. Seems to me that’s still the better way to deal with conflict. Use the tried and proven ways of 2000 years ago to resolve conflict? Sounds good to C. Jackson. Agree? Disagree? written by C. Jackson